Essay, Research Paper: Lillian Hellman

Literature: World War

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Lillian Hellman was one of the most influential and successful playwrights of
her time. Throughout her professional life she has expanded her writing into
different genres, as well as being a playwright she was a screenwriter during a
popular time in Hollywood and later in her life she wrote many popular memoirs
reviewing her life. Hellman was gripped with many obstacles in her career and
personal life, including a torrid love affair with writer Dashiell Hammett,
having to testify in front of the house on un-American activities and being a
female in a male dominated profession. Julia Newhouse and Max Bernard Hellman
had only one child, Lillian Florence Hellman, born June 20th 1905 in New
Orleans. Growing up she would spend her time between New York where her parents
lived in New Orleans. Lillian stayed with her two aunts in a bed and breakfast
they owned in the French Quarter. As a child Lillian would romp through the
dangerous city of new Orleans by herself proving she was very independent at an
early age. Six months out of the year she would attend school in New Orleans,
the rest was spent in New York where she also attended school. She decided to go
to college in the east, attending both New York University and Columbia
University. In 1925 Lillian Hellman left college and read scripts for a living.
On December 31st she married her husband Arthur Kober, who also became a
successful playwright. Through these years Hellman traveled to Paris and
Germany. Kober and Hellman moved to Hollywood in 1930, where Kober worked as a
screenwriter and Lillian Hellman read manuscripts for MGM. In Hollywood she met
Dashiell Hammett. Shortly after she moved to New York and lived with Hammett,
she divorced Arthur Kober. In New York Hammet wrote The Thin Man modeling his
character Nora Charles after Lillian. After little luck in New York Hellman
moved back to California as a screenwriter. While in Hollywood her mother died.
The Children’s Hour an early and controversial play written by Hellman opened
in London. The play deals with a child’s accusation that ruins two school
teachers lives. The taboo subject matter of same sex relationships that the play
deals with led to praise by her peers and boycotting by conservatives. The
Little Foxes is the next Hellman play to be performed, it is her most popular
play yet, staying open for 410 performances. In The Little Foxes material greed
for power create tragic conflicts in a southern family. Hellman bought a 130
acre farm in upstate new York with the money her plays had brought her. Watch on
the Rhine opens in 1941, with the success of this play Hellman had established
her endurance and talent throughout the literary and theatrical world. In Watch
on the Rhine, the destructive evil of the nazi disrupts the sheltered lives of a
suburban family in Washington ,DC. She went on to write the Autumn garden (1951)
and Toys in the Attic( 1960). In 1952 Lillian Hellman was supposed to appear
before the house un-American activities committee for her slight affiliations
with the communist party in Hollywood when she was a script writer. Hammet was
also harassed by Charles Mcarthy and the committee, leading to his arrest.
Hellman refused to discuss her friends political views as many Hollywood
employees were forced to do. this was what she thought on the subject; “I’m
pleased with what I did in front of the house UN American committee because it
had good results and it let other people take the same position, which was the
first time anybody had ever taken it.” (Bryer dust cover) Dashiell Hammett
died in 1961. In the 1970’s Hellman gained recognition for her
autobiographical writings. She was the author of three memoirs, An Unfinished
Woman, Pentimento, and Scoundrel Times. Throughout these books she recalled her
relationships with many people during her life. From her childhood best friend,
Julia, who was killed during World War II, to her maid on her farm. All three
memoirs gained critical acclaim and consumer recognition. An Unfinished Woman
was the winner of the National Book Award and Pentimento was made into a movie
starring Jane Fonda. Scoundrel Time, her last published work touches on the
hardships she suffered during the Mcarthy era. “Hellman combined tightly woven
plots with insight into psychological weakness and deep concern with the social
issues of her time,” one critic said about her work. She was thought of as a
strong woman in hard times, “I don’t have to tell you how deeply I believe
in women’s liberation. I think some of its cries are rather empty cries
because I think it all comes down to whether or not you can support yourself as
well as a man can support himself.” (Bryer dust cover) Lillian Hellman died on
June 30th 1984.
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